Rotten spuds creep into markets
Part of a huge consignment of potatoes declared unfit for consumption by the Customs had been smuggled out and dumped this week by the side of the proposed Katunayake Expressway, from where they are now making their way to the markets.
"These potatoes initially imported as seed potatoes had been declared unfit for consumption after the Customs called for reports from the Agriculture Depar-tment" a senior Customs officer said.

Customs officers had not cleared the potatoes as the consignee had allegedly imported the stock as seed potatoes. The stock of potatoes which had been at the Colombo port for more than three months had been smuggled out last week and dumped by the wayside within the Peliyagoda Urban Council limits.

On Wednesday three 40 ft. container loads weighing about 80 tons of rotten potatoes which had been dumped on the wayside were being sorted out by residents in the area. The Sunday Times investigations revealed that some of these potatoes had been sent to the Manning market in Pettah.

Early on Tuesday morning Peliyagoda Urban Council chairman Nihal Ananda who had received a tip-off of this alleged racket had rushed immediately to the place where the potatoes had been dumped ."When I arrived at the site I found nothing but a mountain of rotten potatoes and when I questioned the residents they said that they had been brought in three huge containers accompanied by about twenty five armed men" he said.

However high-ranking Customs officials say that they still can't find out how the containers got out of the port. They also claim that there is a huge racket in which Ports, Health Department, Agriculture Department and even Customs officials are involved.

A Customs official who did not want to be identified told The Sunday Times, "we destroyed 12 of the 25 container loads ourselves and even the rest will be destroyed by us, but now we are facing death threats from a group who usually do the destroying and also seem to be taking parallel steps to spoil our reputations".

These comments had been made following an alleged attack on the officials by the underworld group said to be led by a highly influential man with political backing.
Meanwhile the underworld leader reportedly believed to be the one behind the racket had gone to the Customs office pretending to be an honest man. He is said to have shown photographs of the potatoes being dumped and had shown a willingness to supply to police registration numbers of vehicles involved in the racket.

LTTE must renounce violence before ban is lifted:US
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Ms. Christina Rocca has declared that although the LTTE has renounced their concept of a "Tamil Ealam" they should also "renounce violence in word and deed" in order to be removed from the US list of proscribed terrorist organizations.

Ms. Rocco made these observations when she testified at a hearing of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee's Sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific on Thursday. She made this declaration in response to a question posed by Brad Sherman (Democratic representative for California) whether there was a possibility that the LTTE would be removed from the US list of proscribed terrorist organizations in the event the peace process ends successfully.

Ms. Rocco praised the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE for "having made significant progress toward a political solution that protects the dignity and security of all Sri Lankans and the country's unity".

She expressed regret that the LTTE was still acquiring weapons but added that the US was committed to helping the Government of Sri Lanka achieve a peaceful settlement. The hearing on "The US and South Asia: Challenges and Opportunities for American Policy" was chaired by James A. Leach (Republican representative for Iowa) and Chairman of the Sub-committee on Asia and the Pacific.

Mr. Leach said that US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is extending his fullest support towards the peace process. Responding to a question posed by the Chairman of the Sub-committee whether the Peace Corps would return to Sri Lanka, Ms. Rocca replied that a security assessment team from the Peace Corps visited Sri Lanka recently and a decision would be taken in this regard when they submit their report.

Local Government elections to be held in uncleared areas shortly - PM
By Laila Nasry
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday that Local Government elections would be held in uncleared areas shortly now that the LTTE has expressed their willingness to cooperate with the Government in this regard.

The Prime Minister made this statement at the induction ceremony of the newly-elected President of the Bar Association. President's Counsel Ananda Wijesekera said this was one of the important developments in the peace negotiations concluded on Friday in Hakone, Japan.

"Nevertheless issues concerning the granting of powers to the Election Commissioner and the holding of elections on a single day need to be discussed further," he said.

The other major development with regard to the peace process is that the government has had meaningful discussions with the LTTE on the problems faced by the Muslims in the north-east region.

The Prime Minister stated that the final legal framework for a lasting political solution would revolve around devolution of power. "Devolution of power is not the only answer but certainly a key to success in the peace process. But with it there should be equality and the upholding of the rights of the people," the Prime Minister said.

With the LTTE willing to consider a federal system, which would ensure their right to self-determination, the Prime Minister said that the government hopes to send parliamentarians to study the system of devolution and autonomy practised in different countries.

The Prime Minister further referred to a number of legislative initiatives the government hopes to implement in the near future namely the Citizens' Charter and the Freedom of Information Act.

Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva speaking at the ceremony stated that both the Bench and the Bar could collectively take pride in the fact that the institutions administering justice have survived and are fully functional throughout the length and breadth of the country with the exception of the Magistrate's Court in Killinochchi and Mullativu. He added that this is an indication of the confidence the people have placed in the legal system.

Water cut to continue despite rain
The daily three-hour water cuts in some parts of the city and suburbs will continue despite the heavy rains in recent days, an official said yesterday.

The Water Board's Additional General Manager Ananda de Silva said the three main reservoirs were still below accepted levels despite the rain and the water cut would continue though it would not be increased beyond three hours.

Meanwhile weather officials said the present rains were inter-monsoonal showers with the full monsoon being expected by May.

Iraq war : Hobson’s choice for television viewers
The average Sri Lankan public were at the mercy of watching the war against Iraq on television only via Dynavision which broadcast footage from the US agency CNN, whose journalists were asked to leave Iraq on Friday night.

The only other international news agency providing news on the war to local viewers is BBC World through news clippings on MTV. State run Rupavahini and ITN were providing news clippings from CNN and BBC.

An earlier move for Rupavahini to sign a deal with the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television agency which is reported to have close contact with the Al-Quiaeda movement and is well regarded in the Arab world has not materialised, official sources said.

But, Rupavahini chief Dr. Ganganath Dissanayake and ITN head Gyrika Perusigne said they had no plans for such agreement.
ETV which was earlier telecasting UK-based Skynews reports is re-negotiating terms and not broadcasting its news programmes.

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